Michael Phelps is six for six in his quest to obtain eight gold medals in a single Olympics. Last night in the 200 IM, he pulled away from the field just when he was beginning to look human. Considering Phelps’ worst stroke is breaststroke, it looked like Laszlo Cseh had a chance to make it a race in the back half as he was close to Phelps after the backstroke leg. It was Phelps’ race strategy that prohibited the comeback from happening.
Phelps came out swinging in the fly leg. “That’s what I wanted to do, take it fast the first 50 and see what happens,” Phelps explained in a post-race interview. “I wasn’t going to hold anything back.” Taking out the IM fast forced the field to swim uncomfortably fast to keep up with the pace. Halfway through the breaststroke leg, Phelps relied on his powerful kick and masterful utilization of the glide to keep him ahead while his opponents began to tire.
And at the end, another gold, another world record, and one step closer to passing Mark Spitz.
Tonight is perhaps his toughest challenge of these games. It’s a short-distance sprint event, which always increases the possibility of someone getting really amped up and having a freakishly-fast swim. If the semifinal results are a proper indicator, the difference between 1st and 8th in the race will be less than a second.
Above is a picture of Phelps (close) and Crocker (far) racing in a short course championship meet.
This is also race 16 of 17 for Phelps, so he will certainly be fighting fatigue and muscle soreness. Let’s take a look at the other medal contenders:
Serbia’s Milorad Cavic posted the fastest time in the semifinals and will be swimming in lane 4 tonight. He swam a 50.92 after taking the first 50 meters out in 23.67 seconds. Cavic posted the 3rd fastest time in the 100 m fly in 2007, behind Americans Phelps and Crocker. He is admittedly a front-half swimmer, which has caused him problems in the past against Phelps, especially in longer distances. He offered some thoughts about swimming the 1-fly against Phelps in his Olympic bio: “I think about this all the time. Whenever I get tired, I just think, ‘Here’s this shark, here’s this guy who can’t lose, who doesn’t lose, and he’s coming for us.’ I’m not intimidated but it motivates me every day.”
World-record holder and teammate Ian Crocker will be swimming in lane 3 after posting the 3rd fastest time in the semi-finals. He also took his first 50 out fast, swimming it in 23.91 seconds. Going into the Olympic trials, Crocker was favored to win the event, but lost to Phelps for a third straight time in that race. Although Crocker and Phelps have been trading 1st places in this event since the 2003 Worlds, Phelps has had Crocker’s number as of late. The former Texas Longhorn is 10-time NCAA champion and 22-time NCAA All-American. Crocker won the 100 yard butterfly (short-course) national title all four years at Texas, joining Mark Spitz (Indiana) and Pablo Morales (Stanford) as the only men ever to win the 100 fly four years in row at the NCAA Championships.
My sleeper pick to sneak into the medal race is the Ukraine’s Andrii Serdinov. He should be right with Phelps at the 50 and is a strong second-half sprinter.
I expect both Cavic and Crocker to be ahead of the field at the 50 with Phelps close behind, which will make for an exciting race. I think Phelps will begin his comeback at the wall and use his momentum to pass Cavic and Crocker in the second half to tie Spitz with seven gold medals.
I think Phelps will break the world record, swimming the 100m fly in the low 50s (breaking 50 seconds would be an incredible swim). But hold onto your hats because this will be a VERY close race.